As you drive through a prosperous residential neighborhood, it may seem to you that the buildings are divided neatly between the single-family dwellings and the apartment houses.
But maybe not. Down our street are some residences that look, architecturally and at first glance, like large single-family homes. But a closer look reveals that they're actually duplexes, or even (if you could get behind them) four-plexes, smaller homes squashed together with shared walls.
Or consider our own townhouse complex. Each townhouse, of identical exterior design, is a separate building, and each has a separate street number. But there are shared spaces as at a large apartment block, and management is responsible for the exterior gardening and maintenance, for instance.
Why should this matter? Well, what if there's a law, or a city policy, distinguishing between single- and multiple-family homes?
We have one. The city has been rolling out new garbage bins, with a recycling container for food scraps. (The food will be fed to pigs. The pigs will not be fed to humans, presumably because of the irregularity of their diet. That means we're recycling our food scraps into spoiled pork meat as well as porcine effluvia, a notorious pollutant. It's not clear to me how this is an ecological improvement.)
The bins, we've been told, are going to single-family houses, but not to apartment buildings. Maybe at some later time, but not now. At some date over a period of weeks, they'll come by after the regular pickup and swap the old bins for the new ones, so be sure to leave yours out after the pickup. So we left ours out and waited each week ...
Finally, a new bin appeared at our curb. The old one didn't go away. But when, having instructed ourselves in the rules for food scrap recycling, we put out the bin the next week, I saw that we were the only house in the complex to have one.
This deserved a phone call. The recycling company didn't know much, but they referred me to the city, who were most responsive. (When the person you reach says "I'll have to refer this to my boss; he'll call you back," you don't expect the underling to call you back a half hour later to report that her boss is busy preparing a report for the city council meeting tonight and will call tomorrow, still less that he actually will.)
Turns out, by city classification, that we're not single-family houses, but a multi-family complex. So we don't get the bins. But apparently the people who delivered the bins had a list of accounts, and since our complex has one account they delivered one bin, and I just happened to get it.
It could be worse, the city man said. At least they didn't take away the old bins. At the four-plexes down the street, they delivered one bin to each and took away the four old bins, each of which had more garbage space than the new one does. He's just gotten finished straightening that one out.
So yes, it does matter if your home is single-family or multi-, and the city would have been wise to check the list of homes before handing it over to the cart deliverers.